Thoughts of an Author in Training
The Safeway on 11th Avenue in Greeley is small. Instead of separate sections for the greens and baked goods that a larger commercialized grocer would have, there is just one section. There are only ten aisles and most of the products sold are local. The cashiers and employees are hard working and even the security guard at the front is friendly to those who will accept it. Most people come and go, stopping off for simple items such as cheese or bread, but everyone waits in line at one of two check-outs that seem to be open. This can cause some build-up and traffic at points, but in the five years I’ve shopped here, I’ve never encountered a problem with the check-out taking too long. I find it quite refreshing actually that the store doesn’t have a self check-out. In order to purchase items you have to talk to a real person and not a machine. With self check-out being the most common technology for grocery stores, this little shop seems slightly preserved, forcing people to appreciate the way shopping used to be. It seems however on Tuesdays around two not everyone appreciates the extra time it takes to check out.
Coming around the last aisle with my two items I pass a woman in her fifties holding up three potatoes yelling at the young gentleman at the customer service desk, insisting that the amount of her items surely grants her the right to check out in the area where you purchase money orders and cigarettes. Not where you purchase potatoes. When the gentleman politely declines that he can’t ring up her purchase, she heads back to the line of five people holding her potatoes above her head making two pounds look heavy and inconvenient.
“You’re welcome to take a place in front of me if you would like?” I say gesturing to the open space in front of me so that she wouldn’t be last in line.
“Oh no, I was right here,” she says making her way in front of an older couple, a mother with two children, and myself.
I can’t imagine where this woman is going at two in the afternoon that these potatoes are so desperately needed. She is a short woman, stocky I guess you could say. She looks compressed and unevenly expanded in the middle. Her hair is short, frizzy, and spoofed chaotically. Her clothing is tucked neatly around her tummy and everything seems to match, making her look well put together except for one minor detail.
Underneath her purse, held across her shoulder, hangs the left arm of her jacket limp and unoccupied, but attached in obvious embarrassment to the right sleeve of her jacket that is perfectly fitted around her arm. This woman is wearing half her jacket. But not in the way that it’s wrapped around your waist if you don’t want to hold it and not in a way where it’s loosely fitted in case it’s too hot. She had somehow left her last destination in such frenzy that she had convinced herself she only had time to put on one sleeve of her jacket. One sleeve was all she needed to know that she had her jacket with her. Or had she forgotten that she even had the jacket when she was hurrying to get her three potatoes?
After cutting in front of a few local customers the woman proceeded on her rant speaking to no one in particular.
“There’s no self check-out!” she says. “Seriously? How do people shop here?”
I don’t really understand the question. Simple really, we find what we need, return to the front of the store to purchase our items, and then carry on with our lives.
“How do you people live like this?” she says.
At this point I feel oddly subjected to a category of you people, whatever that means. Looking around the small crowd of people in line, we have nothing in common except we’re all waiting in the same exact line that she is at the front of. I don’t know why I decide to answer. She isn’t directing her commentary at me, but I feel inclined to stand up for the group of you people.
“It’s not bad really,” I say. “It’s a small store and we like it this way. Without a self check-out.” It feels odd to hear my voice speak against this crazy woman with one arm in her jacket. There is an obvious effort by others to just ignore her.
“Well, I guess I’m just spoiled,” she says.
When it’s her turn I half expect her to throw her potatoes at the clerk in disbelief at the amount of time it took. Maybe even for her to demand the potatoes be free. Instead she is silent, handing over crumpled ones and refusing to use a club card. She’s fast but not cheap. Then she hurries out the automatic doors, her jacket sleeve dragging behind her.
I wonder if she realizes that the whole time she spent yelling at the service clerk, ranting to no one, and glaring at the poor employees, took just as much time as if she had just grabbed her items, stood in line, and kept the peace. She would have even had a moment to put her jacket on both arms.
For some reason she needed to have her way with the potatoes. She yearned to have a self check-out so that she could have control over the moment. Maybe a self check-out would have allowed her to roll the potatoes over the scanner just so and finger the bar code of the spuds gently. Who knows why this woman would rather cause a desperate scene over three brown potatoes than wait in line and let a trained employee do their job behind the register.
I can say that she’ll never get back the time spent bickering and wanting a self check-out. Five minutes that she could have been eating or working, reading a book, anything but complaining. It’s an interesting lesson she’ll most likely not learn. A thought to enjoy the moment that she’ll never notice as it hangs at the bottom of her left jacket sleeve, unoccupied and behind her.